In freshman chemistry class you learn that, before you mix two chemicals together, you need to plan where you're going to put the products of the reaction. If you're going to create a strong acid, for example, you'll need a container that can withstand attack by strong acids. In short, it is standard procedure--and common sense--to decide before you make something where you're going to put it for safekeeping.
Unfortunately, the nuclear industry has been making radioactive waste for 50 years and today the industry still has no clear idea where to put its radioactive byproducts for safekeeping.
Nevertheless, until we take pollution prevention seriously and stop making radioactive waste, something has to be done with it. So in 1980 and 1982 Congress passed two laws to deal with "low-level" wastes (the vast majority from nuclear power plants, plus small amounts from medical uses) and "high level" radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. Low-level waste is radioactive tools, coveralls, rags, instruments, and liquids; high-level waste is a power plant's uranium fuel after it has become "poisoned" with radioactive elements like strontium and plutonium by undergoing nuclear "fission" for months or years. Although some low-level wastes can contain high concentrations of exceedingly radioactive elements, and some low-level waste can be very long-lived, in general "high level" waste is vastly more radioactive and much longer-lived than low-level waste. Both classes of waste are dangerous, and the government's (and the industry's) plan for dealing with them both is to bury them in the ground. Low-level waste will be buried in landfills, and high-level waste will be buried up to 2600 feet below ground, if the government has its way.
Now in 1991 it is clear that the programs established under both laws are in shambles. There are no low-level waste dumps under construction. Each proposed site is subject of intense scrutiny and fierce opposition. The only high-level waste site being considered is at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Two-thirds of all citizens in Nevada and most of their political representatives are strenuously opposing continued exploration of the Nevada site.
The nuclear industry and its supporters in federal and state governments have now unveiled bold new plans for solving the radioactive waste dilemma. The focus of the new initiatives is not science or engineering but a public relations campaign to convince citizens that radioactive waste can be transported and buried in the ground safely. We see a trend developing. Consider these facts:
** A leading public relations industry "insider's" publication called JACK O'DWYER'S NEWSLETTER on September 4, 1991, revealed that New York state's Low-level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission earmarked $900,000 for a public relations blitz in 1991 "to convince New York state residents that low-level nuclear waste facilities are not harmful." The Commission actually issued an RFP (request for proposals) and 22 public relations firms have submitted written responses, detailing how they would conduct a 3-to-5-year, multi-million-dollar PR campaign to sell a low-level waste dump to New York residents.
** The North Carolina Radioactive Waste Management Siting Authority paid a little over $21,000 to Chem Nuclear Systems, Inc. (CNSI)--the radioactive waste dump subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc.--to evaluate the political feasibility of siting a low-level radwaste dump in six different counties of North Carolina. CNSI in turn hired a PR firm called Epley Associates who produced a 500-page "profile" of the six counties, including detailed evaluations of local political and environmental leaders. An employee of Duke Power (largest producer of radioactive waste in North Carolina) allowed a draft copy of the Epley Report to fall into the hands of a news reporter, and then it spread like measles. Three newspaper publishers and the NC Press Association are now suing in Wake County to get the full Epley report released under North Carolina's public records act, but no date has yet been set for a hearing on the matter. Meanwhile, we have obtained 71 pages of the 500-page DRAFT Epley Report. It contains judgments such as, "Wake [County] may be the most 'do-able' county in the state, politically.... We should be able to put together an attractive economic package for the southern Wake County area, which remains rural and feels left out of the county's prosperity.... Opposition will be strong in [the towns of] Chatham and perhaps Lee, and they must be included in any socioeconomic package."
The Epley report recommended that state authorities announce in August, 1991, that 12 or 13 sites were being evaluated and not just the " to 7 real sites" because the 12 or 13 sites "are geographically spread around the state and therefore public opposition is likely to be more dispersed and not clustered in one area. It may be more difficult for environmental and citizens groups to gain strength if their activities have to be spread over a wider area of the state."
From what is going on in New York and North Carolina, it is apparent that people everywhere should be investigating the public relations budgets of the "low-level radioactive waste siting commission" in their locale. Wherever you live, it seems likely that taxpayers' money is being used for a PR campaign to "sell" you a low-level dump.
** By far the biggest public relations campaign has been launched by the nuclear industry to convince Nevada residents that a huge dump for high-level spent-fuel waste at Yucca Mountain will be safe. The plan came to light when a utility executive leaked documents to the Safe Energy Communication Council, a public-interest group in Washington, DC. The nameless executive released a letter from the President of Florida Power Corporation (Allen J. Keesler, Jr.) to members of the Edison Electric Institute's (EEI) Executive Committee; EEI is a nuclear industry trade association. Mr. Keesler's letter to EEI outlines a three-year, $8.7 million PR campaign that is actually underway now in Nevada. Mr. Keesler described "The Nevada Initiative" as "an effort to change public sentiment in Nevada from that of opposition to at least neutrality, positive at best." Mr. Keesler wrote, "And please note this document is 'Confidential.' You can understand the sensitivity with it becoming public," he wrote. You bet we can.
Attached to Mr. Keesler's memo was a 22-page "proposal" from a PR firm to "The American Nuclear Energy Council" (another industry trade group), seeking $8.7 million. The proposal is stamped "confidential" and is dated September, 1991. The proposal says, "The industry message has been focused, influential Nevadans have been recruited to help advance the industry's objectives and a working political alliance has been established with the Department of Energy, natural allies, and key decision makers. Aggressive coalition building is under way, an in-house scientific response team has been recruited, an industry boiler room operation is functioning in Nevada and a dialogue has been developed with the media. A paid advertising campaign will begin this month."
The proposal uses military language throughout, to describe what the nuclear industry is planning to do to the citizens of Nevada. "A political beachhead has been established in Nevada," the proposal says. And: "The ongoing advertising campaign will reduce the number of negative-leaning Nevadans and drive them into the undecided camp, where they will be more receptive to factual information. By softening public opposition, the campaign will provide 'air cover' for elected officials who wish to discuss benefits." A "scientific truth squad and an attack/response team of scientists" have been "trained" already to convince Nevadans that Yucca Mountain is safe, the proposal says.
The media campaign began on schedule in September and is still running, according to Grace Bukowski, director of military programs at Citizen Alert, a Nevada citizens' group that just celebrated its 16th birthday. "Our phones have been ringing off the hook since these ads began," Ms. Bukowski told us. "The people who planned this advertising campaign forgot that this is the above-ground testing state. People here learned about the nuclear industry the hard way." We asked, might such an advertising campaign succeed at all? Ms. Bukowski grew pleasantly scornful. "People are simply not going to fall for that bullshit. They're wasting their money. People are just not that stupid," she said.
We are forced to conclude that the nuclear industry is beyond
desperation in its search for a credible solution to the problem
of radioactive waste. They have given up on science. They have
abandoned the democratic process and rational decision-making.
They are now resorting to secret campaigns of bribery, persuasion
and deception to convince Americans that black is white, evil is
good, and danger is safety. Happily, the industry's desperation
is exceeded only by its ineptitude.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: radioactive waste; pollution prevention; llw; nuclear power; hlw; north carolina radioactive waste management siting authority; chem nuclear systems; epley associates; nc; nc press association; wake county; safe energy communication council; secc; yucca mountain; nv; citizen alert; doe;